Canon Dakin on 08-01-2014
In the history of England there are key events that stand out in our collective memory: the Norman Conquest, the Armada, Dunkirk. The Jews preserved their memory of two incidents in particular; their liberation from Egypt under Moses and, about 500 years before the birth of Our Lord, their exile for a lifetime in Babylon and their return. The great prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah date from the time of the Babylonian exile and today Isaiah is celebrating the return. Jerusalem is to be a flourishing centre: foreigners will come with their gold snd incense and other treasures. St Paul points out how, in the Christian era, native and foreign have become one through faith in Christ. For Matthew, drawing on his memory of Isaiah, the attraction i no longer a trading metropolis but a person, the unique person of Jesus, Son of God.
Philosophers dream of a world united across national boundaries. It exists in the Church. The Church is truly catholic, stretching into every corner of the world. Last year I went into St Joseph’s church in Preston. In the porch was a map of the world with arrows pointing to where parishioners had come from: Europe, Africa, India, the Philippines, South America. Working now in the Diocese we have priests from Africa, India, Italy, and Poland; recently two nuns from America have joined the chaplaincy team at Lancaster University. So the catholicity of the Church is reflected even here at home. Our faith crosses cultural boundaries. We are indeed one in Christ. We celebrate today this aspect of the Church’s life.
Canon Dakin on 16-12-2013
3rd Sunday of Advent
Some of you may remember that when we celebrated the Sacrament of the Sick in August, I mentioned that I was looking forward to reading a book which claimed to reflect Our Lady’s thoughts towards the end of her life. I even said that I would tell you about it next year since it seemed possibly to have relevance to us as we are ageing. A few weeks ago I bought the book: The Testament of Mary. I was impressed by noticing that it had been short-listed for a literary prize. The blurb was reassuring. . ‘Beautiful and daring‘- New York Times. ‘A searing, stunning work‘- Independent on Sunday. ‘Lyrical and evocative, and his portrait of the aged Mary is stunningly achieved.‘ - Daily Mail. So I set out to read it. In fairness I persevered to the end. Verdict: horrendous, blasphemous, and heretical. Mary, on Calvary, is tipped off by her minder, that the secret police are there keeping her under observation, so before Jesus dies, she is quietly moved off the hill and with John and Martha begins her refugee’s journey to safety. It is a long journey. They steal food and clothes and when finally they reach safety in some backward corner of the country she is constantly harassed by her two minders, John and Luke, a brooding menace, to give them every detail she can remember about Jesus‘ early life. It is only during this time that she learns from John how God had a special interest in the conception of her eldest son - no Angel Gabriel, no Annunciation, no virgin birth. The book simply throws the gospel out of the window. You wonder why ever it was written; what possible motive the author might have had. One thing may be said, I think - that fifty years ago no publisher would have touched it as being offensive to Christian faith and sentiment. They reckon nowadays that Christians are not so touchy - if any of them are left to be effective. A more light hearted illustration of Christian faith - or the lack of it - was given in a letter about a teacher who was introducing the children to a carol: Little Baby Jesus. As she began one child called out; That’s a swear word! Then the solo became a concerted chorus: That’s a swear word. There was no contrary voice. None of those children it seems, had been taught to say a prayer in which the name of Jesus was used. For their parents it was an item in their swear cupboard. I admit that the story of the school children came from Australia - but the Aussies share our culture - - they play cricket rather well.
Perhaps we are not sufficiently aware of how far our society has drifted from its roots. Once the rhythm of ordinary life was tied to the mysteries of faith as they were celebrated through the year. Now even Christmas is under threat. Pope Francis has just written his first letter to the whole Church. He insists that we must go beyond mere maintenance. We are to offer our faith to others to share - and to do that we must go beyond the superficial. It doesn’t mean that we have to be clever with words - it means simply that our ‘Happy Christmas‘ does not reflect a feeling of well-being after a good meal or the pleasure of opening presents but comes from a deep faith in the love expressed by the coming to earth of God whose chose to be born as a human child. Gaudete - Rejoice - but let’s rejoice for the real reason.
Canon Dakin on 11-12-2013
2nd Sunday of Advent
John the Baptist was not in fancy dress; he was presenting himself as a successor to the ancient prophets, a man like Samuel, for instance. Now the point about the prophets is that they were not concerned just with spiritual matters; thay were sent to interfere in politics, to face down kings. So John the Baptist, when he wades into the Sadducees and Pharisees, is not giving them a verbal whipping because they were not as virtuous in their private lives as they professed to be, he is criticising the way they had structured society, cutting themselves off from ordinary people whom they regarded simply as sources of the tax revenue that kept them in comfort. John’s message was a social one. So was Paul’s in today’s second reading. Isaiah in the first reading was painting a picture of an ideal king, an ideal that was never realised in Jewish history. Christians accepted it as a portrait of Jesus and the kingdom he founded. Paul draws out the consequences for us. ‘You are to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you’. No problem. No? Muslims? Do we welcome them? Should we welcome them? First point: they didn’t worm their way into this country. The gates were opened by political idealists who reckoned that a mixture of cultures would be enriching. They were naive. Social scientists have pointed out that a community can peacefully accomodate strangers if they form no more than 20% of the whole group, but naturally as they entered the country they concentrated in the areas where they could find work and where they had the support of those who shared their culture. It is to the credit of places in East Lancashire, for instance, where the concentration has been greatest, that the two cultures, Christian and Muslim, have peacefully coexisted - and this in spite of secular liberals in town halls sometimes doing their best, for instance, to suppress Christmas on the grounds of not offending those of a different religion. The fact is that Muslims honour Jesus and Mary and are happy that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. I am not advocating unrestricted immigration whilst it is not racism to wish to impose a limit so long as you are arguing on the basis of the common good. I am abstracting from the politics. I want to go back to St Paul: You are to treat each other as Christ treated you. Christian universalism, the universal kingdom of Christ, is based on our faith that Christ came to earth to give his life for all. He is the measure of the dignity of every human person; every person, of whatever colour or culture, is worth the death of Christ and is therefore worthy of our respect.
Canon Dakin on 26-11-2013
The Feast of Christ the King
The second reading this morning is a very interesting one. St Paul is quoting an early Christian hymn and scholars think that it was composed to be sung at a baptism. It is in two parts - Jesus as creator and Jesus as redeemer. At baptism we are reminded that our life is God’s original gift to which is added a share in God’s own life. As creator Jesus is already King of the universe; whilst the power of his death and resurrection is bringing creation to its fulfillment. So this feast anicipates Advent which turns our attention to Our Lord’s second coming and the end of time. This feast was not always an introduction to Advent. It was created in 1925 and put on an ordinary Sunday in October to insinuate the Church’s claim to have a say in the way that people should relate to each other - in other words that the Church’s social teaching was worth attention. The main points that the Church makes about our living on earth together concern the sanctity of life and the dignity of the individual, the importance of family and community and the soldarity of the whole human race in caring for creation and sharing what the earth provides for the good of all, and consequently a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.
Now for some people this vision sits uncomfortably with the concept of kingship. Good kings who really cared for their people rather than using their power to make themselves rich are quite exceptional. I was a fan of the Merlin series on TV - partly because as a boy I was given, one Christmas, a book on King Arthur and his Knights which I read and re-read. The classical story was far different from the TV version. Merlin was a baby-snatcher. When his nurse was’t looking Merlin took the baby Prince Arthur and placed him with a humble knight, Sir Hector, where he would be brought up not spoiled and pampered but appreciating ordinary things, really enjoying treats because they were rare, learning to value honest relationships, unfeigned kindness and friendship. The Man Born to be King, as Dorothy Sayers put it,was born in a stable, apprenticed to his father, a carpenter, before taking to the road as a wandering preacher, and being condemned to die nailed to a cross because his message was not acceptable. His throne was the wood of his cross. It was the instrument by which he won the world for God. He came into a kingdom by being the champion of his people. He gave his life to serve them. As citizens of his kingdom we, too, are called to serve.
Canon Dakin on 18-11-2013
Apart from The Tablet which is in a bracket of its own, there are three Catholic weeklies; The Catholic Herald, The Catholic Times and The Universe. I would guess that The Catholic Times sets out to be the thinking man’s Universe - they are both from the same stable. It has two regular priest contributors and I know them both. The elder, whom I will call the optimist, was a contemporary of mine in college and is now looking after a small parish on a Scottish island. The younger, whom I will call the pessimist, was several student generations behind us. He is a parish priest in Lancashire - not in our diocese. Since they have different outlooks they clash sometimes in the correspondence columns. Last week there was a letter from the optimist. Appropriately, at the beginning of November, there had been reference to death. Do we approach death in fear or in confidence? You can guess which one stressed, in the style of the old-fashioned missioner, the note of fear and trembling as we approach death unsure of our fate. The optimist had, as his firm foundation, our sure and certain awareness of the infinite love of God.
Just briefly to rehearse the evidence: God has made us each one individually; God became one of us in the person of Jesus who gives us the key to our existence in his death and resurrection, who also gives us a vivid reminder of how closely and personally we are caught up in the mystery of his death and resurrection through our Holy Communion at Mass. We are linked to him. What was his destiny has become ours. What more could God have done to entwine our lives with his? From our first moment we are called into union with him. Death doesn’t break the link with God. We simply become more conscious of it. We are enabled to enjoy it more. If we shall have any regrets they will be because on earth we failed to respond as we might to our awareness of God’s love. So death is not a tragedy; it is a transition, a transformation. It may be painful but that is because of our mysterious attachment to the death of Christ in order to make our transition into the world of his resurrection. Those who are left experience the pain of separation but our faith tells us how we remain in communication through the reality of the Body of Christ - the mechanism which we identify in the Creed as the Communion of Saints. So death may be daunting but it is not a lottery and quite plainly the mission of Christ would have been a flop if there is not a presumption that we shall be raised with him into glory. Our confidence is founded on our faith in God’s love but to qualify for heaven we are to reflect this love back on to the world. There are calls on our charity to which we are to respond according to our means. No one can be unaware of the devastation caused in the Philippines by the typhoon. The Philippines is 80% Catholic. Cafod is able to work through the diocesan network which already exists and has launched a special appeal. You received this morning a Cafod envelope. Please return it with your offering next Sunday
Canon Dakin on 08-11-2013
‘Remember, remember, the 5th of November’. Yes, I know that yesterday was the 5th but the anniversary is important for us here because it was the Gunpowder Plot that brought Nicholas Owen to his death. It had been hoped that James I, who followed Queen Elizabeth, might have offered some relief to Catholics. He had dropped favourable hints. When he realised that the fines paid by Catholics for refusing to attend Protestant services were a useful addition to the exchequer he tightened the screw and and provoked a plan by a reckless group of young Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament when the whole establishment, including the King, would be there. The plot, as you know, was foiled.
It was hatched in Warwickshire, Shakespeare country, in that part of England where the Jesuits were operating. Did Shakespeare ever meet Nicholas Owen?. On both sides of his family Shakespeare was rooted in Warwickshire, in the Forest of Arden, where his people had farmed for generations and, when the Reformation came, they remained stubbornly Catholic. It was in this area that most of Nicholas Owen’s work was done, building hiding-holes for the security of visiting priests. Did Nicholas ever meet Shakespeare? It is not altogether fanciful to ask that question. Nicholas was a Jesuit lay-brother. Shakespeare was cousin to one of the Jesuit martyrs, St Robert Southwell. They were not just two adjacent names on a family tree. They were in touch. We have a letter from Southwell to Shakespeare his “worthy, good cousin” urging him not to play so much with pagan toys but to use his talent to write religious poetry. From our point of view Robert Southwell was one of the group served by Nicholas Owen; the others were Fr Garnet, Edward Oldcorne and John Gerard. Shakespeare’s family, his father, his mother and his daughter Susanna, were recusant - that is they were Catholics who were prepared to suffer fines and imprisonment for their loyalty to the old faith. It is recorded of Shakespeare himself that he died a Papist. There is no record of his taking Communion as the law required in any Protestant church. We may presume that when he was visiting Stratford - which is where his wife continued to live and where he had left his heart - he would have secretly attended Mass with his family in the area served by the Jesuits. It is pure speculation, of course, but quite possible that he may have come face to face with Nicholas Owen.
Canon Dakin on 05-11-2013
We are aware of the tragedies which recently struck the people trying to cross the sea from Africa to Italy.. They help us to appreciate the tenacity of St Paul who twice made a journey round the Eastern Mediterranean and, in doing so, was shipwrecked three times. it was on his second journey that he arrived at Thessalonica in the northern part of Greece.
Thessalonica was a busy commercial centre being a port and also a stop-over on a main Roman road. Its inhabitants were cosmopolitan. Paul was attracted because a strong Jewish community had a synagogue there. Actually the converts he made were mainly among the Gentiles. The Jews were fierce in their opposition and ran him out of town. So later he sent Timothy to discover how his converts were getting on. Timothy brought back some questions for him and the letter he sent, his first letter to the Thessalonians is our earliest Christian document. He followed that up with a second letter which we began to read this morning. The questions put by the Thessalonians were mainly about the second coming of Christ - when would it be and how would it affect us? In essence Paul’s reply is that only God knows but that, in a way, Christ has already come - he has come into our hearts. In baptism, sacramentally, we passed through his tomb and rose from the font sharing his resurrection life. St Paul then goes on to say that as we mature we have to re-live in ourselves the drama of his life, of his passion and resurrection. Paul teaches that we may accept to share his suffering and that through our acceptance our suffering shares the redemptive power of his cross.
I spoke about the mystery of human suffering a couple of weeks ago. This vision of St Paul takes us a little further into the mystery of our existence. It takes us further also into the mystery of the Mass. If I were to ask you what is the climax of the Mass I wonder how many would say - the consecration, the Elevation of the Host and the chalice - that is the most dramatic moment. For a thousand years there was no elevation of the sacred host. For fifteen hundred years there was no elevation of the chalice. The words of consecration were simply a paragraph in the Eucharistic prayer with no accompanying action whatever. It was clear then that the climax of the Mass was Holy Communion, Our Lord presenting himself to us under the appearance of bread and wine - signifying our being strengthened by his presence. But look more deeply. The separate consecration, This is my Body, This is my Blood, brings to mind his death, makes Calvary present. Are we being strengthened then for battle, are we being strengthened to share his suffering? Let us remember that he was the suffering servant, a man who died for others. Our suffering therefore is not to be counted principally in aching limbs but in the sacrifices we make for the good of others.
Canon Dakin on 26-10-2013
Some Jews had objected to Paul’s miionary activity. He had been arrested and sent for trial to Jerusalem. Maybe he saw this as his opportubity to get to the centre of things. He appealed to Rome, was transferred here and kept under house arrest for two years before being brought to trial.He seems to sense a lack of support from his fellow Christians. In the circumstances of the time that would be understandable. We are not sure whether Paul was executed just before or just after the terrible persecution of Christians by the Emperor Nero. Nero found it convenient to blame the Christians for starting a fire which destroyed a large part of Rome. This would seem to suggest that people were disposed to think the worst of Christians who were not likely, therefore, to raise their heads above the parapet. History repeated itself centuries later when the Great Fire of London was blamed on the Catholics and a plaque was erected to that effect which was not removed until the 19th century.
The Pharisee, in the Gospel, represents a tendency which crops up from time to time: self-righteousness; the idea that by your own unaided effort you can merit a reward from God. In Christian history this notion attaches to the memory of a fourth cent. man from Britain called Pelagius, who made his way to Rome. He was a learned man and the author of several books but his main idea seems to have been that you can lead a good life just by putting your mind to it. It’s in your genes, not in help you need from God. This is very much the attitudeof the modern intelligentia. I have started a book written by a well known journalist about how it was the devotion of her little dog that carried her through a crisis in her life. A sentence in the introduction caught my eye “If this book has any message it is that recovery and salvation can come from most unexpected sources and that largeness of spirit will most equip you for your personal fight.” Largeness of spirit. In other words you have to look within yourself to discover your own natural resouces. God, if he is a presence, is remote. A Christian actually does look within him or herself and there find God. Through Jesus we relate to God in a new way: we become related to the Father and the Spirit as Jesus does. We share a divine energy which is the source of all the good that we do. The Pharisee does thank God but so do we, often wih words that have no meaning: ‘Thank God it didn’t rain”; “Thank God he missed that penalty”. The words ‘Thank God‘ are here just an empty formula And yet our whole lives should be a thanksging that in Christ God has made life worth while with an opening into heaven where the consciousness of our relationship to God will broaden immensely. In particular the Mass is called the Eucharist, the Thanksgiving. We come here not to use the love of Jesus crucified as leverage for our petitions but we come into the presence of that supreme act of love to be inspired to express our thanksgiving by relating to others as Jesus did, in loving service. Our Holy Communion is our acceptance.
Canon Dakin on 23-10-2013
Our Lord seems to be anticipating the complaint: God doesn’t listen.
We must be careful. We may really mean that God is not under our control.
We do have a problem when we pray; we tend to impose our will rather than to ask for the grace to accept what God is planning. We needn’t be ashamed of that. Our Lord in Gethsemane prayed that he might not have to face what God had in mind for him - but he ended his prayer: ‘Not my will but yours be done’. If we are going to live in the real world, God’s world, we must sccept that we live in mystery. On earth we are unable to see the wood for the trees, We are part of an order of creation which is much bigger than our little earth. There are forces of good and evil that transcend our imagining. Do I believe in angels? Yes. Do I believe in evil spirits. Yes, I do. Have I any clear idea of where I stand in relation to these? No, I don’t.
To come down to earth again. The case of Madeleine McCann has been once more in the news. Can you think of any pain greater than that of her parents who for six years have not only suffered the loss of her presence but have been oppressed by all their fears concerning her posible fate, together with their self reproach, in hindsight, of having left her even for only a short while out of their sight. They apeak our language because they share our faith. In Holy Communion they know they are in union with him who himself wrestled to accept God’s will. It is not a sin to feel rebellious. It is not a sin to question Why? We have to try, as Jesus did, to trust a wisdom that is infinitely greater than ours and to trust a love that brought God to earth for our ressurance that, through his death and resurection, one day all will be well.
Where God is concerned we will get quick justice, says Our Lord. Tell that to the Christians of Palestine, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria and other places. How quick is quick in God’s vocabulary? Again it depends what we mean. If we are imagining that God should be protecting Christians from attacks by Muslim fanatics we shall be disappointed. It is God’s way to provide rather the gift of fortitude. Only yesterday we read in the gospel: “When they take you before (the) authorities do not worry how to defend yourselves or what to say, because, when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will teach you what you must say”.
Its obvious that God’s vision, God’s plan, is not alway what we would wish for ourselves, but through the coming to earth of his Son, which we are remembering, here, God has deserved our trust.
Canon Dakin on 11-10-2013
Our Lord was fairly rubbing it in: Jews and Samaritans were like Republicans and Loyalists in Northern Ireland. As I mentioned last week, 500 years before Our Lord Israel had been battered by waves of invasions. The people had been displaced and settled elsewhere. Jerusalem had been left abandoned but foreigners had been introduced into Samaria and their presence had somewhat clouded the original clarity of the Jewish religion. . It was, therefore, a despised foreigner who alone had the good manners to return and give thanks for his cure from leprosy.
The Church reads SS. in two ways. It takes the text at face value - in this instance a simple tale of ingratitude. But then the Church begins to see what is called the spiritual meaning. She sees leprosy as a symbol of sin from which we are healed by Christ. Which raises the question of thanksgiving. We are raised from our fallen state by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Any gesture of his would have sufficed because of his dignity as a divine person but he chose the way that might most appeal to our sense of gratitude when we are able to contemplate a crucifix. It is the supreme expression of his love. And he naturally looks for love in return. Three times he said to Peter: Simon Peter, do you love me? It is actually through our union with him that we are able to enter into those loving relationships which give us most happinss. The love he looks for is to find expression in the love we show to others. For our inspiration, for our motivation, we are not to look to be satisfied but to serve. And, of coure, if you really loved someone you would never cause them pain. Then why does God allow us to suffer? We only get hints towards an answer and there were two of them on Monday night’s television programmes. I like Doc Martin. It is slightly zany but it is gentle with serious undertones. A small boy was taken to the surgery by his mother for an injection. The lugubrious doctor, who never smiles, brandished the needle in front of the boy whilst testing the plunger, then rammed it into the boy’s arm. He yelped - but he would never have questoned why his mother had subjected him to such unpleasantness because he trusted her love. That followed a programme was about Malala, the girl from Pakistan who was shot in the head for defying the Taliban on the education of girls. She was saved from death by an emergency operation in Pakistan and then flown to England for two further operations to enable her to hear and to speak normally. She has suffered but as a result she has been empowered. She is the youngest person ever to to have addressed the United Nations assembly. She is very mature for her years and a deeply religious person. I have no doubt that she will regard her being injured as providential because it has placed her in a position from which she can promote her cause far more strongly than before. So we can pick up sll kinds of hints which, if we trust God’s love, can give us an intimation also of his wisdom. Ancient mosaics show the cross plunged into dark earth and green shoots of new life rising and spreading from its base. When we are asked to enter into that same mystery by sharing a tiny portion of Our Lord’s cross, we may not see the green shoots emerging - but they will be there.
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